February 21, 2019 by Dymphna

The secret meaning of Alice in Wonderland

There are (at least) three universal lessons in Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland is a thinly-veiled argument for flat-earth theory.

Yeah, nah, I don’t really think that. But I found myself in the middle of a dinner party the other night. We started talking about what Alice in Wonderland meant, and I had to come up with something.

I definitely don’t think it was a way for a tenured mathematics professor to argue for a flat earth. (Robert, I still think you’re way off beam with that one).

Ultimately, I think Alice in Wonderland is just some nonsense dreamed up by an intelligent man to get a giggle out of a young girl. And that’s a beautiful thing.

But even if it is nonsense, I still think there are some potent themes that Lewis Carroll is drawing on, and some important lessons for those of us who take our growth and investing seriously.

Let me give you three:

1. Beware the Rabbit of Urgency

I think there’s something of Carroll’s white rabbit in all of us. It’s that character obsessed and anxious about time, always in a rush – always in a flap – even though the reason for the flap is never quite clear.

I think many functions of our minds have lags – like chemical echoes. Our neural pathways get carved into ruts. If we spend a lot of time in fear for example, we can end up stuck there, playing out the fear story in our heads, even though the cause of the fear itself might be long gone.

Obsessing about time and deadlines is similar. If we let ourselves exist in a rush too much and too often, we can get stuck there. There’s always a white rabbit in the back of our minds, telling us that we’re late and we need to hurry up… for something…

Following that rabbit leads to all sorts of trouble. Don’t do it.

2. Creativity is Seeing the World with Child-like Eyes

The legend goes that Lewis Carroll composed most of Alice in Wonderland spontaneously, as he rowed along a stretch of the Thames, entertaining the young daughters of the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University.

(How preposterously British.)

One of the girls was named Alice.

My bet is that if Carroll had set out to write a best-selling children’s’ book, he would have failed.

The creativity, the playfulness, the inter-dimensional LSD-trip fluidity that characterises Alice in Wonderland comes from the original Alice herself.

The world of a seven-year-old child is spontaneous and free. It is purposelessly creative. It is fun for fun’s sake.

In many ways, Alice and her sisters called this story out of Carroll. It is their playfulness, their creativity and their sense of humour that he was responding to.

For a brief moment in time, Carroll forgot the rigid adult world he inhabited – with its rigid ideas of right and wrong, its logic, its sense of appropriateness. He suddenly found himself in a world with no rules.

Our best creative impulses come when we place ourselves out beyond ideas of right and wrong – when we see the world with child-like eyes.

So… Have you discussed your kitchen reno ideas with your kid?

3. We Are All Lost Down the Rabbit Hole

Finally, there is something in Alice we can all relate to.

It is a little bit heart-wrenching to see an innocent girl struggling to find her place in the world. Everywhere she turns she finds herself out of place, alien, unable to connect with the strange beings around her.

And these beings aren’t malevolent. They’re worse. They’re indifferent. They’re too caught up in whatever tea-party they’re a part of to really meet Alice for who she is.

And so she finds herself questioning her own impulses. Her hunger to connect, the desire to be loved and to feel safe, even the drive to understand the world at all – her hunger for meaning.

She knows she is an outsider. She knows she is far from home. And she doesn’t know the way back.

Now doesn’t that describe the human condition? Isn’t that all of us, to one degree or another?

Aren’t we all Alice?

So what do you think?

That’s what I reckon the meaning of Alice in Wonderland is. It’s about the danger of ruts, the creativity of children, and the dislocation at the heart of the human condition… Just to fly a few flags up a few flag poles.

But it’s pretty solid, right? What do you reckon?

Did I win the dinner party?